Health and Life Expectancy

Health and Life Expectancy

People of color in Tompkins County have significantly poorer health than white people. Black and Latinx people are almost twice as likely to die before age 75 than white people, and Black people are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for diabetes. See the slideshow of charts below for other health disparities.

On a national level, a 2017 Nation magazine report summarizing research into the racial inequalities linked to black infant deaths, race turns out to be a factor all on its own even when other factors are controlled for – contributing to a two-to-one greater infant death rate between blacks and whites. The new research confirms and expands on studies done in the 1990s demonstrating close connections among race, discrimination, high blood pressure, and other “cardiovascular risk factors” (Chasin,  Barbara. 2004. Inequality and Violence in the United States 2004, pages 164 – 166)

Just living in a racist society creates considerable stress for people of color, regardless of socioeconomic status. This stress is directly associated with poorer health.

Recent public health and epidemiological studies have come up with the concept of “allostatic load,” “the cumulative wear and tear on the body’s systems owing to repeated adaptation to stressors” (cited in Carpenter 2017, page 15). The author translates this into a metaphor of “a thicket of thorny plants,” through which Black people must negotiate their lives constantly pricked by the racist structures around them.

The negative effects of racism in Tompkins County on health are many. Local people of color are more likely than white people to live in poverty, with less access to quality and preventative health care. They are less likely to own a car with which to get to medical appointments or evening or night shifts and less likely to have jobs with adequate sick leave or allowances for calling in sick. Just living in a racist society creates considerable stress for people of color, regardless of socioeconomic status. This stress is directly associated with poorer health.

COVID-19 Racial Disparities

People of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. They are experiencing higher levels of complications, hospitalizations, and deaths relative to their representation in the population. For example, although Black people make up approximately 12.5% of the US population, according to the CDC they make up 23% of deaths in the US due to COVID-19. Importantly, the unequal impact of this virus, like other health disparities we discuss above, are due to multiple intersecting, systemic, social, and economic factors that put people of color at greater risk, and leave them with fewer protections. 

In Tompkins County, COVID-19 numbers are low, relative to larger, more urban areas. So far, Tompkins County has had zero resident deaths and fewer than 10 hospitalizations. Nevertheless, the trend of overrepresentation of people of color among COVID-19 is evident, although to a lesser extent, in Tompkins County. According to the Tompkins County Health Department, Black people comprise 4.6% of the local population, but 6% of COVID-19 positive cases. Latinx people, who are 5.3% of the population in Tompkins County, comprise 11.3% of the positive cases. See tables below from the TC Health Department.

Testing in Tompkins has largely happened at a testing site on Triphammer Road, which can be difficult to access for people without cars. Though free, sanitary transportation to and from the testing site now exists, for the first several weeks after the pandemic was declared there was no such service. As demonstrated on the Transportation page, BIPOC and poor residents have significantly more transportation barriers than white residents overall, which may have contributed to a bias in this data due to fewer BIPOC and poor residents being able to get tested.

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